For some, the prospect of casting aside an alias and embarking on a new project and genre may seem daunting. For London-born, West Country-raised DJ and producer Jabru, however, his pivot from studio engineer to mysterious UK hip hop producer to the eclectic, soulful stylings of his current moniker occurred naturally after a period of experimentation – plus an untimely health scare. “I used to make hip hop years ago under another name, and had a bit of a wake-up call health wise, so just thought, ‘Fuck it, let’s start again, set the tempo to random and see what comes out’,” he says. “I made this weird, spacey hip hop tune and it ended up getting signed to Tom Middleton’s label Sound Of The Cosmos.”
‘Glass Floor’ was the first of many signings as Jabru, signalling a shift to a new sound and new connections. “That track took about three years to come out in the end,” he says. “But in that time I met Hackman and started doing the Bruh Jackman stuff with him, that EP was signed to Futureboogie and it spiralled from there.”
Jabru’s first musical experiences occurred during his formative years in the South West. After playing various instruments “fairly noncommittally” he swapped his drum kit for turntables at 16, playing bar gigs and free parties in his local area before trying his hand at promoting. “That’s a lot of people’s way in when you’re stuck in the sticks,” he says. “The only way to experience the music and hip hop in particular is to book the people you want to meet.”
With remixes for Roots Manuva, Rodney P, Crystal Fighters and others under his belt, a string of notable festival appearances, releases on !K7 and Optimo’s Bucky Skank as well as a new album on “new spiritual home” Purple City Soufflé, it seems strange that an artist of Jabru’s calibre isn’t yet as well known as some of his peers. Perhaps it’s down to his tentative approach to social media. “In real life I can talk shit endlessly, but on the internet I just think, ‘That’s going to be there forever!’” he laughs.
This year Jabru is releasing his debut album ‘Ill Conceived’. On it, he melds vibrant sounds from an abundance of genres including neo-soul, footwork and broken beat into a colourful, cross-pollinated concoction of screwface-worthy soul. “Mainly I’m just a big fan of melody – tough drums and melody. Soulful music that packs a soundsystem punch, I guess,” he says. “It’s been difficult to build a consistent following because someone might be into one release, but the next thing will be quite different. Hopefully the album pieces it all together with a narrative that helps it make more sense.”
“Stylistically there’s a lot going on, but there’s a thread that runs through it – one that might get tangled if your phone goes on shuffle, though!” he laughs. And the title? “It’s a statement on the current direction the world seems to be dragging itself in, kicking and screaming, plus a get-out clause in case anybody doesn’t like the record,” he laughs. “Then we can say, ‘We said it was a bad idea in the first place!’”.
‘Ill Conceived’ is out now on Purple City Soufflé
Jasmine Kent-Smith is Mixmag's Staff Writer. Follow her on Twitter
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